Caught in a Twit-Storm!

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone since I was in beautiful Vancouver but at least I can relive it by sharing it with you in my blog. One of the things I find most bizarre about Canada is that so many websites look like they were made about 10 years ago and a lot of them may have not even been updated since! Many retailers had websites that would make CAMRA websites over here look polished in comparison (for overseas readers, CAMRA UK websites tend to be shockingly bad). However, unlike in the UK, the beer industry and its aficionados seem to have really got the hang of this internet thing. The Most Awesome Website award (which would see the average What’s Brewing reader have the whole bar condemned for sorcery)  would probably go to St Augustine’s Brewpub. Imagine if you could see exactly what beers are on as well as what colour they are and how much is left at a glance before you leave the house. Imagine no more thanks to the Live Beer Menu. As well as on-line, it’s also shown on screens around the bar.

As an avid Tweeter, I didn’t need to be in Vancouver long to find the awesome YVR Beer Tweetup. They’re a

The menu at Smileys

group of craft beer lovers who organise and promote craft beer events such as the Hopscotch event held over two nights as part of the Craft Beer Month celebrations and as a warm-up for the Hopscotch festival. The Tweetup event featured 8 Highwood Distilleries Whisky based casks of amazing beers. On each table, along with the beer menu, there was also a list of hashtags and Twitter IDs to enable drinkers to tweet their opinions and shout-outs which were displayed on screens around the bar. There were also competitions where prizes were awarded to the first person to tweet an answer to a question, Pretty clever since as more people tweet, the event starts trending and this means free publicity – sweet!

The two nights were held at two different bars which are part of the Donnelly chain (like ‘Spoons but with good food and good beer), Smileys and The Bimini. Of all the beers, the best was easily the Lighthouse Imperial Whiskey Marmalade IPA. The bitter hops totally intensified the Seville orange marmalade to the max. This was closely followed by the Central City Spanish Oak Aged Vanilla Bean Whiskey Stout. Hopefully if they ever bottled it they’d have a think about the name, A superb stout with plenty of coffee bean, it picked up a fair bit of the woodiness from the oak which was offset by delicate vanilla. I also loved the Howe Sound Pumpkin Ale Spiced Whiskey. Their original pumpkin was one of my favourites but the warmth of the whiskey and the round woody flavour pushed it over into a new level.

And the winner is…

Armed with tasting notes, I get stuck in!

It was just my luck that the third annual British Columbia Beer Awards & The CAMRA Harvest Cask Festival happened to fall on Saturday October 18th my first full day in Vancouver. We were quick enough to purchase a pair of the much sought-after tickets over the marvellous internet (what did we do before it!). Prior to this I had no idea that CAMRA had distant, younger, trendier cousins in such far-flung and exotic locations as British Columbia. Chapel Arts was the venue for this illustrious shindig which had the atmosphere of a lively but very friendly house party. Walking in, we were greeted with the usual beer list, commemorative glass and starter tokens (plus bonus tokens for our food donations for the harvest festival!). However, there wasn’t the usual line-up of pint or half. These glasses were teeny 4oz tasting glasses which were ideal for sampling all the beer one could hope to try without hitting the floor too early. I’ve always been fond of the ‘tiny glass = more beers’ approach to festivals and I was glad that throughout our stay we discovered this was a common feature in craft beer pubs across Vancouver.

The chill-out-and-eat-pulled-pork room

The crowd was a far cry from the stereotypical beer festival crowd one is probably all too familiar with. These were young, fashionable people all interested in beer, discussing home-brew and their favourite pubs in excited tones. It’s the very first beer festival I’ve been to which made me feel slightly old! Rather than the familiar setup of casks all racked together, the BC folk set up a table for each brewery and it was fun to meet some of the brewers who were happy to chat about their creations to anybody who came along. As a young woman who is often patronised at CAMRA festivals (GBBF being one of the worst sadly), it was nice to not have to negotiate with narrow-minded old men to try the beer I like and it was encouraging to see female brewers at some of the stands. In fact, the brewers were really the stars of the show and were recognised in the awards and their names appeared alongside their beers in the tasting notes. No attempt was made to separate cask and keg either – refreshingly both were listed and shown together.  CAMRA had the usual recruitment table and as a special treat for their members they had an exclusive ale for card-carrying members only. Thankfully, they were kind enough to accept my UK CAMRA card so I was allowed to sample a glass of Driftwood’s crisp and refreshing Sartori Harvest IPA and I also managed to blag a sticker and a pin badge for being such a dedicated CAMRA member.

The coveted awards

The awards ceremony was the highlight of the day. Beer-loving star of film and television, Jonathan Lloyd Walker who I believe is best known for his role in sci-fi show Continuum but has also appeared in the film Red and the Flash Gordon TV series amongst others, was a very charming and funny host. A beer awards bash is probably the best event to get in to at the start of a trip to an unfamiliar country. Although I recognised a few of the names from a previous trip to Vancouver, it was a great way to find out about the beers and breweries to watch out for. The judges came from a host of backgrounds, from qualified beer judges to sommeliers to ordinary bloggers and foodies and sat down to the gruelling task of tasting prior to the awards. The sleek tap handle trophies were awarded to the top three beers in 12 distinct categories in addition to the Homebrew award and ‘Best in Show’ which, to my surprise, went to a Pilsner from Steamworks. Of course Steamworks do make fabulous beers. You can see a full list of the winners here.

So what did Bierebelle spend her precious beer tokens on?

Big Ridge Brewing – Tariq’s ESB (5.9%ABV) by Tariq Kahn

Lovely clear amber red with more of an IPA than ESB character. Pink grapefruit citrus thirst-quencher with lots of carbonation. Part of the MJG family of brew pubs along with Flying Beaver, Whistler Brewhouse and Yaletown. Normally only brew for consumption on-premises so nice to see them at a festival!

Dead Frog Brewing – Hop Forward IPA (7%ABV) by Timmy Brown

Big bitter hop assault. The lemon sharpness takes a hold on the taste buds and doesn’t let go through the warmingly alcoholic bitter finish.

Driftwood Brewing – Sartori Harvest IPA (7%ABV) by Jason Meyers

CAMRA Exclusive! Very overtly hopped with a lot of citrus in the aroma. Refreshing, crisp and clean lemony liveliness.

Howe Sound Brewing – Imperial Pumpkin Stout (6.5%ABV) by Franco Corno

Heavy burnt treacle on the nose with almost a hint of tobacco. Really thick mouthfeel with pumpkin pie spices, burnt sugar and rounded out with earthy cacao nibs.

Lighthouse Brewing Company – Belgian Quice IPA (8%ABV) by Dean Mcleod

All I knew about quinces before is that posh TV chefs like to put them in jelly but it turns out over in British Columbia they have an even more totally righteous use for them! This easily won the People’s Choice award of the festival. A sharp candy aroma intensified by a fistful of hops, this pale and cloudy wonder had a remarkable combination of cranberry and rhubarb yumminess with a long bitter finish.

Parallel 49 – Chocolate Pumpkin Porter (6.5%ABV) by Graham With

Interestingly slightly sharp dark malt aroma. Very dark opaque brown with quite a bit of carbonation. Really bitter dark chocolate and a little touch of the vegetable,.

R&B Brewing – Cucumber Mint IPA (6.5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Imagine Thornbridge Wye, but add a trace of subtle mint and a more sturdy, robust citrus hoppiness. It’s a very cloudy yellow amber which is almost like a saison in appearance. The initial feeling is a big juicy bite of beery cucumber with a tingly mintiness at the end, exaggerated if you stick your tongue out (which was pretty fun). This was probably second only to the Quince IPA in my view.

R&B Brewing – Seasonal Squash Ale (5%ABV) by Todd Graham

Another cloudy one but a beautiful dark tan colour. I found this one rather zingy for a squash ale and not much spice was evident but there was still a lovely earthiness imparted by the squash. Interestingly it also shared characteristics with a cream ale.

Steamworks – Espresso Stout (9%ABV) by Tak Guenette

Mmmm… a real espresso stout with bitter coffee and a lactose sweetness at the end, although interestingly the OH was not too fond of the high acidity in the flavour. I thought it reminded me a lot of Titanic or Dark Star.

Storm Brewing – Imperial Sour Cherry Stout (11%ABV) by James Walton

I loved Storm and especially this one – they excel at pushing sour beyond the brink. James is pretty much the rock star of the BC brewing scene with crazy bleached spikes and awesome punky style. The aroma on this one was almost eye-wateringly sour cherry and citrus and the flavour was unbelievably sharp with a candy aftertaste that leaves your mouth feeling like you’ve been eating sour laces.

Townsite Brewing – Porter (5.5%ABV) by Cedric Dauchot

Wow this took me back to Ireland! Very carbonated with a massive head and properly bitter.

Tree Brewing – Jumping Jack Pumpkin Ale (6.4%ABV) – Stephan Buhl

This very dark golden amber ale was initially slightly disappointing with not much aroma but it was definitely a grower. More heavily hopped than others of this style, initially there was not much spice but this developed further down the glass and complimented the delicate pumpkin flavours.

The beautiful beer-loving crowd

Somebody had to…

Conrad Gmoser of Steamworks

Every beer festival needs pulled pork sandwiches

Rebel Belle

Taking over the taps!

Last Saturday, I was lucky enough to go for a day trip to Bristol for the Tiny Rebel tap takeover at the Bag O’ Nails. Having tried only one of their beers previously, the magnificently hoppy Fubar, I had been desperate to try more but sadly none have made it as far as the South Coast. Having never been to the Bag O’Nails before, it was a good excuse to discover another pub in Bristol. I’d heard excellent things about the place so I’m not sure why it took me so long to pay them a visit. I was also keen to meet Malcolm, the handsome chap who runs the pub (he’s actually a cat so he has a human called Luke managing the place). I hadn’t expected such a lovely, bustling little pub as the one I walked into. Luckily, we found ourselves a table, although we had to be on our best behaviour as the boss was enjoying a well-earned siesta there.

I started with a lovely Koochie (6%ABV) pale ale which had that lovely fresh and exotic new-world hop flavour. It didn’t take long to feel quite at home. I really appreciate going to a pub where the landlord is as passionate about good beer as I am, although Luke and I do not seem to share the same opinions on Irish craft. One of his other passions seemed to be his music collection; instead of CDs, there was a turntable with a collection of well-chosen classic albums on vinyl from classic artists such as Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath and The Doors.

Malcolm wasn’t really interested in the Chocoholic. More for me then.The Doors, Black Sabbath and Johnny Cash.

As I got stuck into my second beer, a delicious Cwtch (4.6%ABV) English Bitter which had that classic biscuity taste with a hint of fruit, I got talking to the guys at the table next to us. I was amazed that they had come all the way from Newport, Wales, where Tiny Rebel is based, to support their local brewery. The OH did have to remind me that it’s not that far from Bristol by train, but still I’m impressed they love the beer so much.

It was an absolute delight to meet the two guys behind Tiny Rebel, Gazz & Brad. We spent a lot of time chatting to Gazz who was such a massively likeable beer geek. He told us about how they started out as home-brewers and we chatted about what we had been brewing at home. It’s always handy to get tips from professional brewers, especially as he still brews small batches to test new ideas. He was particularly proud of the Chocoholic (6.8%ABV) which was a beautifully bitter, smooth, rich chocolate stout. The extreme dark bitterness, I was told, was down to the raw cacao nibs used in the settling tanks.

Before the mad dash for the train, there was just enough time to remind myself of the beer that had made me want to go to Bristol that day in the first place. Fubar (4.4%ABV), with its lovely refreshing hops and really big after taste of bitterness, was just as good as I remembered. Oh and I even managed to grab a growler of Koochie for the train home, although since cats evidently rule the roost at the Bag O’Nails, Luke insisted on a swift ‘customisation,’ covering the Brewdog logo with a Tiny Rebel one. I kinda like it. Although that was also when Brewdog Jonny walked in. It’s a shame we had to catch a train relatively early but you can tell what a fun day out we had by the fact that I didn’t really get round to writing many proper words about the actual beers which is even more reason that I demand that you track some down for yourself!

Bespoke customised Tiny Rebel growler!

Exploring the beers of the Emerald Isle

Although my birthday was at the start of August, I had to wait a whole month to enjoy my super-awesome big birthday treat but as they say, good things come to those who wait. My lovely kind boyfriend had booked tickets for us to spend four days in Dublin! Bleary-eyed, we set out on a 7am Saturday morning flight to embark on our Irish adventure. Why so early? That day we were seeing the Emerald Isle Classic, a massive American college football game between long-standing rivals Notre Dame and Navy. Although technically it was a Navy home game, the Notre Dame, also known as Fighting Irish supporters, vastly outnumbered those there for the ‘Midshipmen.’ With 35,000 Americans over for the spectacle (and a couple of bewildered American tourists who couldn’t work out why there were no Irish people in Dublin), it was pretty lively out on Temple Bar even as early as 9am when we arrived! With the bars and pubs filling up with yanks on a morning pre-game bender, we installed ourselves in The Temple Bar to soak up the atmosphere and hopefully find some Irish beer. I had set myself up for disappointment on the Irish beer scene, having heard about the dominance of the mighty Guinness having crushed any hope of a craft scene. How wrong I was!

The first Irish beer of the trip had to be a Trouble Brewing Dark Arts, their 4.4%ABV porter which I noticed

Trouble’s Brewing!

as soon as we reached the bar due to it’s super-cute label. Established in 2009 by home brewers keen to take things to the next level, Trouble Brewing only has two beers in its line-up (the other is Ór Golden Ale) but also do the odd seasonal brew now and then. I’ve just found out their next one will be a pumpkin ale which they really should consider exporting to Southampton, UK (pretty please, hint hint?). There may be a little Irish black magic in this deliciously full but refreshing stout. There was a tiny hint of hops compared to a lot of the ales I’ve enjoyed recently, but the bitterness of the coffee made up for it. The rich port flavor at the back was intriguing, almost as if it had enjoyed a brief stint in port cask. The rich, black smoothly balanced beauty at only 4.4% was surely the product of pretty skilled brewers. Even the artwork’s adorable. The OH tried a Dungarvan Black Rock Irish Stout (4.3%ABV) which had the more traditional bitterness of a stout with delicious dark roasted espresso flavors. We also managed to try the sturdy Knockmealdown porter from Eight Degrees which was set up by a kiwi and an Aussie who came to Ireland and wondered where all the craft beer was. As they say in their tasting notes, it’s ‘like tackling the Knockmealdowns in a blizzard, this beer is not for wimps.’ A full bodied porter with a slight carbonation to open up the bitter dark espresso and berries, ending with a warming charred woodiness. Along with some delicious Bloody Mary oyster shots and posh goats cheese on toast, we were all set to make our way to the stadium. After such a good start on some pretty impressive local beers and food, the Guinness at the game was a little lackluster.

Oyster Stout & Oysters = The ultimate treat!

It’s a good job that, despite the dominance of the black stuff, Dublin seems to have a pretty thriving craft beer scene and it’s easy to find a good pint. Porterhouse, with all its dark nooks and crannies where you can take a relaxing time out, has been a long-standing favorite in London and not just because it’s the site of the first date with the OH. Opened back in ’96, their Temple Bar premises was the first ever brew pub in Ireland, serving a fine selection of beers from around the world alongside its own range. It has all the character of Covent Garden but benefits from live Irish music every night played from a stage which looks precariously suspended above the ground floor bar in a kind of crazy arrangement where you can see the band whichever floor you are on. They also proudly display an impressive collection of old bottles in glass-fronted cabinets covering the walls. It was interesting to see some of their earlier take-offs of the big brands which made me think when they started they may have been quite the enfant terribles, courting controversy like Brewdog do today. These days, their line-up of exceptional beers speaks for itself. Their Oyster Stout (5.2%), with its uniquely indulgent creamy head and masses of rich chocolate flavour, is made even more special served with three oysters on the side and remains my favorite beer in that style. At Porterhouse, I also had my first try of their Wrasslers 4X Extra Stout (5.7%ABV) which left me wondering what took me so long – again a thick and deep black beast with more of a roasty roundness than the Oyster.

Another favorite haunt in Dublin turned out to be the F.X.Buckley Bull & Castlewhich is a cozy gastro-pub

Where to start?

serving traditional pub-grub made from local produce to an extraordinary standard at street level, but upstairs you will find a wonderfully spacious Beer Hall, complete with sociable long tables and sport on TV. Although their international bottle selection was pretty well thought-out, I was most impressed by their dedication to Irish beer. They always have 8 on the taps and even more to choose from in the fridges. To allow drinkers to find out more about the craft scene on the Emerald Isle, they have even produced a small guide book available to buy for a few euros. Conscious that I had been getting carried away with all the delicious stouts and porters available around Dublin, the 8 third-pint tasting tray was an ideal opportunity to see what else the Emerald Isle has to offer. Amongst the line-up was the famous Galway Hooker (4.4%ABV) made by a couple of guys who just wanted something other than the traditional stout, red and lager. They ended up producing a multi award-winning dry, floral, refreshingly fun pale ale which I rather enjoyed. I should mention here as well that if you do eat at the Bull & Castle, I order you to try the ribs – the sauce is actually made from Galway Hooker and my goodness can you taste it (if you are reading chefs, if you send me the recipe I promise I won’t tell anyone). Going back to beer, the Irish brewery that really wowed me the most for pales was Metalman. I had already tried their summer seasonal, Windjammer (4.8%ABV) which features the current favourite Nelson Sauvin hop but somehow stands out with its delicate spice, dried strawberry, biscuits and vanilla. On the tasting tray, I had a sample of the Metalman Pale Ale (4.3%ABV) which was a very American zingy, zesty, limey, mouth-wateringly dry hit of refreshment. Of the stouts on the tray, my firm favourite was still without a doubt the Dark Arts from Trouble Brewing, although Carlow’s O’Hara’s Irish Stout (4.3%ABV) was a pretty smooth operator with a luxurious lasting tan-coloured head and big roast malt and chocolate flavours with an edge of bitter hops.

A selection of the bottles at the Bull & Castle

I could go on and on about all the wonderful beer we had and bars we visited. I was so at home with Irish craft and really don’t understand why so little of it appears over here. Not only do you find a vast array of stouts and porters to choose from all year-round, but brewers are also trying more American and European influenced styles and the standard is pretty high. My only concern was that, in general, beer was served a little bit gassier than I am used to. Maybe it’s just me? Another observation was that there still isn’t a lot a lot of terribly hopped beer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and this is just based on the bars I went to in Dublin. There are exceptions such as Porterhouse’s superb hops-all-up-in-your-face Hophead (4.8%ABV). I was pleased to see no noticeable cask/keg divide. Bars serving good beer just served good beer and didn’t really tell you how it was made or served.

To learn more about the Irish Craft Beer Revolution, take a look at Beoir, the ‘independent group of consumers with a primary goal of supporting and raising awareness of Ireland’s native independent microbreweries.’ Their website has an excellent directory of breweries, as well as the bars and restaurants where you can try their beers.

Come on – Guinness is better than nothing at a sports game!

 

Further adventures in the North

A super selection at the North Bar

Wow it’s been a busy month! So little time to blog so sorry about the general silence from Bierebelle HQ. What an amazing month of an amazing year to reach that milestone 30 – it’s been a whole month of birthday! Between spending my evenings glued to the Olympics and now glued to the Paralympics, I managed to fit in a short trip up North to the wonderful West Yorkshire. Before heading off to Bradford for a music festival, first stop was Leeds where I just had to call in at the lovely little North Bar asap. Part of a small family of Leeds pubs which includes the cozy Cross Keys and even a beery ice-cream van,  although not for much longer since they’re selling it. How long ’till Christmas? Although it looks tiny from the outside, North Bar actually boasts a pretty enviable selection. On the day we went, out of 16 taps I saw 6 dark beers which for me is a pretty admirable ratio, although it makes sense on a rainy August day.The range on the bar includes a Dunkel from Erdinger, Coffee Porter from Flying Dog, a Cream Stout and two IPAs from Sierra Nevada – there’s something for everyone! The prices are pretty much what you expect in London. I had an X-Ray (8.5%ABV) from the Italian Brewfist at a fiver for a half but I guess it’s pretty rare to find in the UK. Tasting it I soon forgot the dent in my wallet (well, my boyfriend’s wallet). You could get lost in this luxurious dark Italian stallion of a beer. It had the aroma of delicious caramel with tones of burnt wood and in the flavor the sweetness hit first. Treacle toffee oozed through before a bitter coffee sweeping through to a woody leather finish. Sophisticated, elegant and complex. The OH was lucky enough to try a gorgeous Brooklyn Mary’s Maple Porter (6.9%ABV, draft only so fairly special!) which was a big mama of a sweet malty drama with voluptuously unctuous maple syrup taking it to the limit of what could turn out sickly but staying damned drinkable.

Next on our whistle-stop tour of the bars of Leeds was Friends of Ham, located on New Station Street which has become one of my favorite streets in the city. Nestled alongside Laynes Espresso, serving the best coffee around, and brew-pub Leeds Brewery Tap, Friends of Ham is the tiny bar station with a big secret in the basement. Descend below street level and you’ll find yourself in a cozy, laid back lounge complete with comfy sofas, eclectic-chic unmatched tables and chairs, sociable long dining tables and a  Shuffleboard (which somebody must explain to me some time)! Check out the gorgeous photos on their Facebook page if you’re not convinced.

Hey little piggy!

It boasts a brilliant cask and keg range for such little bar space. I finally had the chance to try Williams Brothers Birds & Bees (4.3%ABV) after admiring the artwork on the website ages ago but never seeing it in real life. It was exactly what I wanted it to be, like a hazy summer afternoon of snoozing by a river-warm amber gold with sweet honey aroma. Honey is perfectly balanced by floral hops. Imagine this with crusty baguette and soft cheese lying somewhere in a field, if summer were ever to return. The OH had a Dark Star Revelation (5.7%ABV) which also had a little of the honey flavor like Birds & Bees, rounding off the overwhelming huge hops and a lingering dry bitterness to finish. Another win from Dark Star – can they ever go wrong? We loved this place so much we actually called in on the way out of Leeds to sample their charcuterie delights. Well it is just next door to the station. As a light lunch, the two of us shared a mixed meat and cheese board which came with delicious fresh bread, cornichons and a duo of delightful onion marmalade and a warming orange habanero jelly. The smoked goats cheese was the best I’ve had so far with a mild goats-milk tang and perfect amount of smoke and the garlic cheese wrapped in garlic leaves was incredibly delicious without anti-social amounts of garlic. I was pleased I took the suggestion of the lovely lady at the bar and went for the salted beef and I also tried the fancy salami studded with fennel seeds which gave it a pretty refreshing twist.To wash it down I indulged in a half of Delerium Red (8.5%ABV) which I had never actually encountered before. It was gorgeously full of rich and juicy cherries with a trace of bitterness in the after-taste. Still not as good as my much-loved Sam Smith’s Organic Cherry Ale but tasty nevertheless.

The gorgeous bar at Mr.Foley’s

Thankfully, we also had the chance to drop in on the York Brewery‘s Western outpost, Mr.Foley’s. It’s a lovely proper pub and the huge bar has a high ceiling so while you wait for your beer there’s plenty of interesting bottles to browse, although many are from times past and may just invoke fond memories. There’s 3 or 4 taps devoted to York Brewery so it’s a must-visit for me if I’m not actually going to York! Alongside are about 6 on cask including some changing guests and 4 on keg. I had my beloved Ghost Ale (5.4%) which we all know by now is one of my desert island ales and I love for it’s rich creamy chocolaty goodness. I don’t know whether the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ saying is appropriate or whether this was just perfectly well-kept but I swear this was even better than I remember. The OH went for a delightful Sierra Nevada Summerfest (5.0%) which was a delightfully light, citrus hopped Pilsner style. To round off our one night in Leeds, I decided to try a Bellerose which is the blonde from Brasserie des Sources, a brewery founded by by Gerrard Depardieu. In all, it was pretty typical of the style with all you expect including the off-putting aroma (or is it just me who finds that?). The flavour was smooth despite the herbal zingy hops and joyful carbonation. Although I was quite content with the Bellerose (6.5%ABV), I did find myself fairly jealous of the OH’s Buxton Imperial Black and couldn’t wait to finish my beer so I could pour myself some of his.. Had Brewdog Libertine? This is Libertine’s bolder, larger-than-life swashbuckling cousin. Hoppyer with a truckload more blackcurrant and a zesty citrus pow!

So, as you can see, mostly I haven’t been blogging because I’ve actually been out and about on my travels. You could even call it research. We had barely had the chance to unpack on our return from Bradford before we were back on the plane to the Emerald Isle… More on that soon!

The York Brewery Pumpclip Collection

The Ginger Beer that could possibly blast a Hole in the Wall

Everyone loves a ceiling covered in pump clips

Living in Southampton, it’s frustrating that good pubs are so few and good beer is mostly only available to drink from bottles at home. Sometimes it’s nice to drink somewhere outside the home where it’s friendly and the beer selection is good. Thankfully, since I only live a short walk from the train station, the South of England is pretty much my oyster at the weekends and one place I love to go is Portsmouth – a girl can’t just survive on beer. She’s gotta shop once in a while and Gunwharf is lovely for a potter around. Just a short walk along the seafront at some point Portsmouth melts into the gentle seaside town of Southsea which is where you will find one of my favorite pubs down here,The Hole in the Wall. It’s such a cozy little pub it almost lives up to its name so it’s a good job the patrons all seem so good-natured every time you have to squeeze through to get to the bar. Since Portsmouth is a Naval town, there’s folk from all over the country and I find it comforting to hear Northern accents whenever I wander into The Hole.The first thing that attracted me to the place was that I heard they were selling a proper real ginger beer, a ginger beer that would make the Famous Five weep with joy.

Wheal Maiden’sGrandma’s Weapons Grade Ginger Beer has become the standard ginger beers must

Poor Bierebelle got the wrong one. Lucky it was only a half!

live up to for me. It’s allegedly 5.5%ABV although I would not be surprised if there’s still a bit of fermentation occuring in that white plastic barrel it’s served from. Although it used to be on the bar at the Hole In the Wall every time we went in, it’s become slightly more random now. Thankfully there’s plenty of awesome ales to choose from so we always end up staying. The landlord must be something of a connoiseur as he keeps his ales perfectly and sources them from the very best breweries up and down the country. The last time we went in, I made a duff choice on my first drink, Quantock Royal Stag (6%ABV) which had a bit of a sicky smell and no real hop flavour, despite being marketed as a ‘traditional IPA.’ However, the OH had a pretty delectably nutty Irving Admiral (4.3%ABV) oatmeal stout which I managed to trade with him halfway though. To my delight, also on the bar was Magic Rock Carnival (4.3%ABV), a gorgeously golden summer ale with a full hop aroma with candy lemons. Magic Rock do a cracking job and The Hole is one of the only places down this way where I have seen it on tap. With the initial hit of lemons the Royal Stag had become a distant memory and then the hoppy bitterness and a trace of bitter orange at the end provided a magnificent full finish. Also on the bar was the slightly dialed-down but still very refreshing Curious (3.9%ABV) which the OH was more than happy with.

Finally the Weapon’s Grade is back!

Although the Magic Rock had been awesome and a really rare treat, I was still missing my lovely ginger (as were two other people who came in while we were there and asked after it). I hadn’t had any since the day I celebrated completing the Great South Run at The Hole a year before. Thankfully, last weekend my luck had finally turned and I got a pint of what I had been waiting for and it was indeed worth the wait. As is usual when ordering a pint of this stuff, it came with the usual ‘watch out love, it’s a bit strong’ warnings from regulars propping up the bar which is a sure sign of a good drink. The lemon and ginger aroma is so clean and fresh, it’s almost worryingly like something you could clean your sink with it it’s so sharp. Any readers familiar with those lip-tingling plumping lip-glosses will already be familiar with the ginger burn but you get the bonus of the lovely sweetness and a mouth-watering dryness at the end. Looking at the milky white colour, the OH did point out that it had more in common with cider than beer, and he may be right but I love it no matter what it is. The only problem is I can’t normally drink more than a pint without getting giddy!

A birthday to remember!

Well the Olympics is over but what a fortnight it was! If you are anything like me, you will have been glued to the Olympics at every spare moment! At work, I’ve discovered the very best reason to have an internet browser with tabs. I have absolutely no idea how I passed the time in the dark days before the games came to London! What a memorable week to hit a milestone birthday! Last Monday I hit the big 3-0 and I really don’t mind if you know that since I still get asked for ID (so there!). We had meant to get tickets for the Olympics on that day but

Birthday beer time!

weren’t lucky enough. Since we’d heard London was actually not too manic we decided to venture up there to spend the day generally wandering round and soaking up the atmosphere. In a dramatic but very fitting diversion from the usual coffee train-beer, I had been keeping a special birthday beverage to one side. Æther Blæc 28 (7.7%ABV) is Hardknott‘s phenomenal Stout Beer aged in barrels which had been used to distill Inchgower Whisky way back in the year I was born. Out of all the barrel-aged stouts I have tried, this stands out as one of the best, if not the best. Well-balanced, rich, dark fruits, bitter and hypnotic depths of complexity. So far I’ve had two of the 420 bottles made. I will count myself very lucky if I get another!

The Æther Blæc set me up for a crazy awesome day combing the streets of London in search of the painted Wenlock statues dotted around the city – there’s apparently 80 in total! Since this was hungry work, I had the ideal excuse to try out Tonkotsu the new ramen bar in Soho which I’d heard about from various beery sources on Twitter and had pretty much the best ramen ever! The mains on the menu consist of only two pork ramen and one vegetarian but they excel at what they do! I have never raved about hard-boiled eggs so much – you will not regret ordering extra! The reason it’s popular with beer fans, of course, is its rather enviable and fairly-priced beers from local breweries Beavertown & The Kernel, as well as Brewdog. I went for a Beavertown Smog Rocket (5.4%ABV) which was a deliciously smokey porter and the OH went for their impressively hop-tastic IPA, 8 Ball (6.2%ABV).

More Wenlock-spotting called for more thirst-quenching beer. Just my luck then that The Cask had a ‘Meet the Brewer’ event with Red Willow brewery! What a fantastic place to watch as Jason Kenny took another Team GB gold in the mens sprint, an event I became a little obsessed with. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to let out a cheer as he crossed the line. I drank halves so I could try as many as possible and I can pretty honestly say that I didn’t have one bad one but the stand outs were the liquorice black IPA SoullesS (7.2%ABV) and sweet but smokey and incredibly drinkable porter, Smokeless (5.7%ABV). Unfortunately, the day had to come to an end early as I had to be at work the next day so to round off a rather lovely birthday we got a lovely pudding to take on the train. The perfect pudding? A cakey, figgy Vanilla Tree Dubbel (7.5%) by Westbrook Brewing Co. Only another two working days until we’re back in London for the Great British Beer Festival and seeing the Olympics for real.

Good times at Bristol Beer Factory

Enjoying the sun at the Grain Barge

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to look around the Bristol Beer Factory. Always glad of the excuse for a trip to Bristol, particularly in glorious sunshine, we set out early in the day so we could have a little wander before the tour. After we had checked in to our hotel, the first stop was the Bristol Beer Factory’s Grain Barge where we had hoped to get some lunch. Unfortunately, they had stopped serving food by the time we got there! Since it was such a gorgeous day we still stopped for a little drink; I enjoyed one of my favorite beers, the Milk Stout and the OH went for a refreshing Southville Hop. There aren’t many better places to soak up the sun in Bristol than the Grain Barge with beautiful views (you can see the SS Great Britain) and good beer. What more could you want! We still needed to eat though, and against the better advice of the Twitter hive-mind we ended up at the intimidatingly huge hyper-buffet, Zaza Bazaar. Although not exceptional, I have never seen so much variety at a buffet and it was not nearly as bad as the average all-you-can eat. There is always a danger of not knowing when to stop when presented with so much food so it’s maybe a good thing that there’s an hour time limit! I’m sure we worked some of it off with a brisk walk uphill to Corks of Cotham where we stocked up on a few beers to take home. Then, by the time we got our spoils back to the hotel it was time to set out on another brisk walk to the factory of beer!

Waiting for the tour to start!

Having just started home-brewing, I was very excited to see how it’s done on a larger scale. The only other tour I have been on was York Brewery which was many years ago. Having hurried over, convinced we were running late, we were actually amongst the first to arrive, which gave me time to survey the many empty casks outside, seeing how many of my favorite breweries I could spot. I was also discretely observing the gathering crowds, trying to guess which one could be the writer of the Beer For The Weekend blog without looking like a weirdo. Thank goodness he introduced himself!

Walking in to the brewery, I was pleased to note that it smelled pretty similar to the cupboard where my homebrew sits so I must be doing OK. We were met and shown into the brewery by Simon Bartlett, the Managing Director, who issued us with our very own Bristol Beer Factory branded pint glasses and invited to help ourselves to West Coast Red, Southville Hop and the rather exciting brand new collaboration with Dark Star, Southern Conspiracy (6.3%ABV)! Having followed the brew day on Twitter which was happening the same weekend as Grillstock, I was keen to try it and it was well worth the wait. If you love beers made with the tropical, mango and pineapple hops from New Zealand, this is amongst the best and you really must track it down. Although I had a drop of the other two beers on offer, I kept coming back for more of that sunshine stuff which, at 6.3%, made for a merry evening.Somewhere in the brewery there’s a couple of white wine casks with Southern Conspiracy ageing on fresh gooseberries which may just take it to the next level.

With Mr. Beer for the Weekend

Since the Beer Factory’s bottles can be found at so many retailers now, I was surprised at how small the brewery was and even more impressed considering how much high quality ales come out of there. The talk by Simon was pretty informative; he started by telling us about the brewing process, their equipment and the ingedients they used and passed around glasses containing hops and malts for us to smell and taste. It was fascinating to learn about the history of the Old Brewery which, many years ago, was home to the Ashton Gate Brewery. Ashton was most famous for it’s MIlk Stout which was the inspiration for the Beer Factory’s ale which is so popular today. Since Ashton Gate was bought by Georges’ and closed down in the early 30s, it went through a variety of changes of use until it was bought by local architect George Ferguson and restored to it’s former use. Simon also gave us the opportunity to ask any questions we wanted to.

Mmmmm…could this be the last bottle of Chocolate Orange…?

After the talk and Q&As, we were allowed to have a little look round and it was great to mingle with fellow beer-lovers. Rather than the stereotypical beerdy old men, the crowd was a good mix of young and old, men and women which really demonstrates the wide-reaching appeal this brewery has. It was great to be able to have a chat with Simon about all the amazing stuff they have planned, including the next 12 Stouts of Christmas, but I have been sworn to secrecy on any more detail than that. I think everyone had a pretty good time and it ended up like a pretty beery social gathering. It was pretty well-pitched for seasoned beer-drinkers and newcomers alike and everyone went away with a lovely bottle to enjoy at home. A great evening! Just hope I wasn’t too tipsy by the end!

Bristol barbeque time!

After our beery afternoon at the Volunteer Arms, we headed over to Cotham in search of food and more beer. The last time the OH had been to Bristol, he had stumbled upon a rather excellent little off-licence stocking some of the finest beer of the region. Corks of Cotham looks from the outside like the average wine and spirit merchant, but if you venture to the back you will find an absolute treasure trove of Bristish ale as well as a well-picked selection of American and Continental beer. I originally planned to call in for another bottle of the Bristol Collaboration but was seduced by the selection and came away with a couple of Hardknotts and very special Arbor Ales bottles, both of which are impossible to get where I live.

The haul from Corks!

Since we were in Cotham, we decided to call in at Beerd, Bath Ales’ new concept craft beer and pizza joint. Although the bottle menu was a bit run-of-the-mill, the taps boasted a prettty nice selection of local ales as well as some keg from further afield. They have resident beers as well as guests so make sure you scan the bar or ask somebody before you order! I went for a pint of Bristol Beer Factory No7 (4.2%ABV), their Best Bitter which was a fairly pleasant, biscuity bitter with a citrusy hop. Unchallenging and a pretty good choice to go with my exceptionally delieious anchovy pizza!

Well-fed, we went for a night-cap with our friends who had just joined us from London at the lovely Colston Yard which had one of my favorite Bristol Beer Factory regulars on, their rather delectable Milk Stout (4.5%). A pretty drinkable sweet stout; just right to unwind for the meatfest ahead! We were up super-refreshed and ready for the mighty Grillstock the next morning. The moment we were got through the gate we were handed tokens for free Jeremiah Weed which was the only thing stopping me from making beer the first drink of the day. The main event at Grillstock is the King of the Grill competition which sees the international superstars of barbecue and amateur teams battle it out to be the Grand Champion and win the opportunity to compete in the American Royal Invitational in Kansas City. The judging panel is an impressive mix of award-winning experts including Dr.BBQ, who has been involved in cook-offs as long as I’ve been alive, and guests from the world of food and food writing. Throughout the weekend, they are presented with entries from each of the teams for seven rounds including brisket, ribs and desserts. As well as the competition, there’s a rather punishing chilli-eating contest, stalls where you can buy high quality goodies to cook with at home and live bands all day.

Wandering around the cooking village with a free Jeremiah Weed in hand, the day was

Dr.BBQ serving up in the Chef’s Choice round

already off to a good start when I was offered fresh-off-the-barbeque lamb ribs which were just astounding – you must try them! One of the things that makes this event so awesome is that, alongside the competition entries, the teams cook all manner of juicy meat-stuffs through the day to offer to the happy crowds and will happily talk about what they are doing and offer useful tips. The highlight had to be from the Bad Byron team member known on Twitter as @racksofruin who had created an extravagant beast from cheese and veg, encased in meat and all rolled up in bacon. Sweet! There’s also rich pickings hanging at the judging tent since once the judges have taken what they want the rest is offered to spectators! I managed to score an absolutely immense beef rib from Dr.BBQ himself as well as pulled pork and lots of pit beans.

The BBQ village where all the magic happens

The official beer supplier, Bristol Beer Factory, brought a nice selection to wash it all down which included Milk Stout, the mighty Southville Hop, Acer and Bitter Californian. Although the sun didn’t make much of an appearance, the hoppy delight of Southville more than made up for it. I was slightly disappointed on day 2 when a large amount of the beer had run out including my favorites. Lucky for us, the new Bristol Farm Shop were selling a lovely selection of local produce including beer so the day was saved. Of course, we were reminded that it was not meant for consumption at the festival and we did spend a lot of time trying to hide it like kids whenever we saw security! I was particularly taken with the Arbor Yakima Valley IPA (7%ABV) which was a joyful explosion of hoppy candy sunshine. Arbor’s dark ruby old ale, Old Knobbley  (4.5%ABV), also proved to be a pretty good choice. I found the burnt woody taste slightly unusual since it gave a bitterness quite unlike the IPA I’d had previously!

Another fabulous weekend in Bristol then. Admittedly I came away a lot heavier but full of ideas for cooking and even found a couple of new favorite breweries to add to the list. I’ll definetly be back soon – very soon indeed for the Beer Factory tour. I can hardly wait!

A lesson in beer at the Volunteer Tavern

After our train beers, there was just enough time to perk ourselves up with a non-beery coffee before checking into our residence for the next few days, the Future Inn. Lucky for us, we spied an intriguing chalk-board propped up outside our hotel. Beer Festival at the Volunteer Tavern you say? 24 beers? But where!? Thirsty from our travels we were puzzled by the lack of directions on the sign but these are the times GPS was invented for. Unfortunately, Google Maps navigation literally took me through the middle of a ghetto in a sweeping circle to get to the Volunteer Arms. It was 2pm and the po-po were already out making rounds of arrests! After my OH nervously told me to get my phone away and hold my handbag close, we finally stumbled upon the lovely little village-pub oasis of beer we had been seeking. We cut through the pub, noting the admirable selection on the handpumps (which includes a dark all-year round!) to the festival in the beer garden. What a lovely beer-garden too, with plenty of mis-matched furniture to go around and high walls.Since it was East Midlands themed, I was delighted to see a selection from breweries not normally seen in our neck of the woods. I was particularly amused at the inclusion of Blue Bee from Sheffield since, being from North Yorkshire, I do regularly mock a Sheffield friend for not being a proper Northerner. Childish, but he is fiercly proud of his Northern roots!

I started with a Mr Grundy’s 1914 (5%). Being a nerd I appreciate a brewery with a historical theme and gave myself a pat on the back for immediately picking up the WW1 theme. Other beers include Passchendaele & Lord Kitchener. 1914 was a rather deliciously dark stout with a chocolate and blackcurrant aroma. Drinkable, smooth and unchallenging, the hint of hedgerow blackberries and short bitter finish made it just right to savour in the rare warmth of the day. Entertainment, as is sadly often the case, came from two old-school CAMRA relics. I tried not to choke on my beer with laughter as I heard them tutting and moaning about the imminent arrival of Brewdog‘s new Bristol pub. ‘Well I’ve been to the one in Edinburgh’ one proudly bellowed to the other, ‘and all they sell is keg. I ended up leaving.’ It’s apparently all the fault of this silly American ‘craft beer’ fad. All they want to do is make easy-to-store and easy-to-serve beer with no character. It takes no skill to do this silly ‘craft’ beer. So that’s me told then! Real beer, they went on to decide, is Real Ale from a cask. Apart from the Europeans. They’re allowed to do what they want. Thank goodness for that. So Mikkeller, Evil Twin, you’re cool. Brewdog, Magic Rock, go back to school you talentless upstarts!

Taking a break from my lesson in beer, I headed back to the bar to grab me some of that Oyster Stout (4.6%) from local brewer Arbor Ales. I now love Arbor and you will be hearing a lot more about them from me. Wow – if somebody asked me to close my eyes and imagine an Oyster Stout, this would be it. It was the classic little-black-dress of an Oyster Stout – smooth and opaque with a thick, foamy white head and a sweet mocha aroma. A full chocolate malt flavour giving way to silky smooth black coffee and a bitter finish makes this feel so indulgent.Unlike Marston’s, Arbor throw some real Oysters into the boil near the end which I guess almost makes this a meal in a glass?

The richness of the Arbor Oyster set my beery expectations high which was unfortunate for the next one. I’d heard a few people talking about Muirhouse Jurgens Jungle Juice (4%) already but in hindsight maybe it”s just because of the fun name because the actual beer was slightly…forgettable? A golden sessiony bitter with a little biscuit and yawn……. In my boredom I was jealously eyeing up the OH’s selection, Tiny Rebel Fubar (4.4%) which has got me rather excited about this new kid on the Newport Brewing scene. They might be tiny (there’s only two bottles in the range at the moment) but I expect massive things from this brewery. At only 4.4%ABV, Fubar packs more of a punch than other stronger beers in its class. It’s a pale ale with buckets of tangy lemon and honey hoppiness and distinctly bitter and just damned gorgeous. The astounding citrus hop aroma was reminiscent of sherbert lemons at the moment you break the hard candy and it starts to fizz on your tongue. I absolutely cannot wait to see more from the Tiny Rebel. Oh and their marketing’s cute too.

After I’d guzzled the last of the poor boy’s tasty Fubar and he finished the dregs of Jungle Juice, we left through the back gate of the beer garden and realised that we were literally two minutes from the door of our hotel and civilisation. Thanks Google Maps.